Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Counting what counts

Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." He hung this sign above his desk at Princeton University.

It is very easy to fall into the habit of simply measuring whatever is easily measurable, however, there is a big difference between valueing what we measure and measuring what we value.

Unfortunately, technocrats tend to believe in the former, but the best educators appreciate the latter.

Here are but a few examples of things I think we should measure even though they would be difficult to nearly impossible to count.

*If we care about living a healthy and active lifestyle, we should concern ourselves less with counting how many championships our school's teams win and more with counting how many of our students grow up and continue to play in men's and women's 'beer league' sports.

*If we care about life-long learning, we should concern ourselves less with test scores that measure how many students forget the material 15 minutes before the test versus those who forget 15 minutes after the test and more with counting how many of our students grow up to be parents who instill a love for learning in their own children.

*If we care about character education, we should concern ourselves less with measuring how many students mindlessly comply with pre-conceived rules, and more with counting the students that understand the difference between mindful compliance and artful subversion.

Unfortunately, this kind of data is hard to collect; it's hard to bar graph; and so, we tend to ignore it entirely - which forces some teachers and policy makers to become horribly distracted by less valuable, less valid and less reliable data that is easily gathered and pie-charted.

Thus, too often poor data is driving poor decision making. But those bar graphs and pie charts sure do look fancy.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more. So often, when you walk into a classroom, you know immediately whether (or not) you are in the presence of an effective teacher. There is an industrious sound, a respectful tone, and a happy atmosphere. Can you measure any of these things? Not necessarily. There is much more to the equation. At times, students love a teacher for the wrong reasons. This takes a little longer to figure out, but you eventually figure it out. Data can tell you if students did well on a test, but it cannot identify good teaching.


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